Last week I went home to visit/care for my father while my sister was out-of-town. I stayed at her home, and cared for her cats, and spent my days visiting my dad. With the move to Italy less than 8 weeks away, visiting my father was something I wanted to do before I leave.
Almost two years ago my father’s health began to decline. He developed kidney failure. Instead of dealing with the health issue in its early stages, my father waited until his kidneys began to fail completely before seeking medical attention. Since the onset of kidney failure, my father has slowly transformed into a different person.
My father has always been strong-willed. He is the oldest of five children. When he was 20 years old his father (my grandfather) passed away, leaving my dad as the patriarch of his family. My father, being the responsible person he is, took the role seriously and helped his mother to care for his younger siblings. Because he had so much responsibility, at such a young age, my father developed a strong sense of independence. He has always been the kind of person who liked to do things for himself, and his own way.
When my father’s health began to decline it was a difficult transition for him. Kidney failure causes a variety of symptoms, but one that affected my father the most was a lack of energy and strength. My father has always been active, and when he became ill he no longer was able to walk or stand for any length of time.
At first my father refused to acknowledge his illness. He was determined to maintain his independence. I’m sure he knew how serious his illness was for quite a while before my siblings and I became aware of it. However, by the time we did become aware, his disease had progressed too far. There was little left to do except start dialysis to do the work his kidneys no long could.
One thing everyone can relate to is having to deal with aging parents. Not everyone has children, but everyone has parents. My mother passed away over 20 years ago suddenly. There was no time for lengthy goodbyes, or closure. Her death was abrupt and painful. Yet, watching a parent slowly age is also difficult. To see the person who once guided you with strength, no longer be able to walk or have difficulty eating is also painful. The tasks your parents once did for you as a young child become the tasks you now do for them as an adult. In essence, your roles become reversed.
To watch my father’s health, both physically and mentally, decline has been trans-formative for me in many ways. Although it makes me sad at times, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to spend with him. Over time, he has lessened his strong stance on issues, and is kind and gracious. When I would arrive each day to visit him I would do care taking things. Sometimes I would clean his room or help his with his meals. They were the kind of things I do for my boys.
Leaving my father at the end of my trip was hard. Because I will be leaving soon, and moving so far away, there is a chance I won’t see him again. I told him about my upcoming move with the family, but the next day he had forgotten all about it. I leave my father in the hands of my loving, devoted sister, who tirelessly oversees his care. A mix of sadness, and guilt overcomes me when I think about not seeing him again.
On the day of my final visit my father, his wife and I shared a meal in their apartment. We had planned to go to the dining hall, but my father wasn’t feeling well after dialysis, so decided to eat at home. During our meal, there were a couple of times his glasses slipped down his nose, and I gently pushed them back up. I remember thinking how my father would have never allowed my to do something like push his glasses up as child. He would have pushed my hand away claiming he could do it himself. But, my father let me help him. He allowed me the chance to show him love in a way he used to do for me as a child. Our role reversal was okay for him and for me…and we were both grateful.